Historical films help students learn, but separating fact from fiction can be a challenge – The Source

Students who learn history by watching blockbuster films based on history may be doomed to repeat the historical mistakes described in them, suggests a new study from Washington University in St. Louis.

The study, to appear in the journal Psychological Science, suggests that showing popular history films in a classroom can be a double-edged sword when it comes to helping students learn and retain factual information in associated textbooks.

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We found that when the information in the film was consistent with the information in the text, watching the clips from the film increased correct memorization by about 50% compared to reading the text alone, ”says Andrew Butler, PhD student in psychology in the arts. and science.

“In contrast, when the information in the film directly contradicted the text, people often mistakenly remembered the misinformation depicted in the film, sometimes up to 50% of the time.”

Butler, whose research focuses on how cognitive psychology can be applied to improve educational practice, notes that teachers can guard against the negative impact of films that play quickly and freely with historical facts, although a general warning may not be sufficient.

“The deceptive effect occurred even when people remembered the potentially inaccurate nature of popular movies right before watching the movie,” Butler said. “However, the effect was completely nullified when a specific warning regarding the particular inaccuracy was provided prior to the film.”

Butler conducted the study with colleagues in the Department of Psychology’s Memory Lab. Co-authors include doctoral student Franklin M. Zaromb, postdoctoral researcher Keith B. Lyle and Henry L. “Roddy” Roediger III, principal investigator of the laboratory and distinguished professor of psychology at James S. McDonnell University.

“These findings have implications for the current educational practice of using popular films as a teaching aid,” concludes Butler.

“While films can increase learning and interest in the classroom, educators should be aware that students can also learn inaccurate information, even if the correct information has been presented in a text. More broadly, these same positive and negative effects apply to the consumption of popular history films by the general public.

Historical inaccuracies in popular movies

Popular films increase interest in the story and contain a lot of accurate information, but the producers of these films often take liberties with the facts to tell a more entertaining story.

This is the case with the film Amadeus, a historical drama about the life of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Released in 1984, the film thrilled moviegoers and critics alike, ultimately winning eight Oscars, including Best Picture. Although the film is credited with increasing the popularity of Mozart’s music, it may also have created a deceptive impression of Mozart.

AMADEUS (1984)
Subject: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
The movie clip portrays Mozart as a childish and vulgar person. In fact, there is no evidence that Mozart behaved this way in public. On the contrary, it is believed that Mozart displayed impeccable manners in the presence of royalty and acted professionally with his colleagues.

AMISTADE (1997)

Subject: Mutiny on the Spanish ship Amistad
The clip from the 1997 film shows Cinque sitting chained in front of the Supreme Court during the trial. In fact, Cinque was jailed in Connecticut during the trial.

FALL STONE (2000)

Subject: Wyatt Earp and the shootout at OK Corral
The clip shows Doc Holliday shooting and killing Johnny Ringo. In fact, Holliday is known to have been in a Colorado courtroom the day Ringo died, so he couldn’t have killed him. Johnny Ringo’s death was officially considered suicide.

MARIE-ANTOINETTE (2006)
Subject: The French Revolution
In the clip, a crowd attacking Versailles is briefly silent when Marie-Antoinette appears on the balcony, presumably out of respect for the Queen. In fact, it is not known that this happened and, given the great aversion of the French towards Marie-Antoinette, it is very unlikely that the crowd reacted in this way.

GLORY (1989)
Subject: 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment
The clip shows the new recruits of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Division meeting and meeting for the first time. Most of the individuals shown in the clip are former Southern slaves. In fact, most of this regiment’s recruits were freemen from Massachusetts and other northern states.

U-571 (2000)
Topic: Cracking the Enigma Code of the Nazis
The clip shows U.S. sailors, intelligence and special operations officers planning a covert mission to capture an Enigma machine from a broken down German submarine, the U-571. In fact, it was the British Navy that captured enough Enigma material from German submarines and warships to break the German naval code.

ELIZABETH (1998)
Subject: Queen Elizabeth
The clip shows Queen Elizabeth forcing her chief adviser, Sir William Cecil, to retire and giving him the title of Lord Burghley to make his retirement comfortable. In fact, Sir William Cecil was never retired by Elizabeth, but remained her chief adviser until his death and received the title of Lord Burghley as a reward for his years of service.

EIGHT MEN OUT (1988)
Subject: The Chicago Black Sox Scandal
In the clip, players involved in the Chicago “Black Sox” scandal are banned from baseball immediately after the 1919 World Series and are never allowed to play another professional game. In fact, players played 5 more months, almost another full season, before being banned from baseball because the baseball owner-ordered investigation dragged on for almost a year.

LAST SAMURAI (2003)

Subject: The Satsuma Rebellion
In the clip, American soldiers are brought to Japan to prepare the Imperial Army to quell a rebellion started by the Satsuma samurai clan. In fact, the Japanese hired French military advisers because the French army was one of the most powerful in the world at that time. In contrast, the US military was not particularly strong and was still rebuilding itself after the Civil War.


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